Interview: Why Representation in Tech Matters

One of our amazing crew members and product designers shares why representation matters in tech, how it’s impacted her career, and what it means for her during Hispanic Heritage Month.

Continue reading for the full Q&A to gain a valuable perspective on how this affects so many of our coworkers and colleagues in tech.

What is the first way that representation in tech can affect people?

Representation in tech first affects your confidence that you’re going to succeed.

Not seeing others like yourself makes you doubt your ability to compete in a field. This is why role-models are important, they model behaviors and experiences that allows those who identify with the role-model the ability to view themselves in a different light.

In my experience, not seeing other women who are first-generation Hispanic Americans in technology created a self-limiting belief that caused me to view myself as inadequate to compete, let alone work in the tech space. 

This internalized bias is endemic to most women and an overwhelming issue with first-generation Americans, one that I was not aware of until I found a mentor who was able to point out this destructive belief structure within myself. The funny thing about mentors is that they come in unexpected ways — some include people who intentionally take time to guide you and others unintentionally guide you through their cruelty. 

I have had a few mentors that poured into me valuable and affirming guidance but the mentor that shattered my internal view of myself would laugh to think that I saw her as a mentor. I was working at a job that I hated, in a small forgotten corner of Queens, NYC. Everyone who worked there hated being there, the work was monotonous and life-sucking and my manager was a woman who thrived off of being sadistic and mean. 

The day I gave her my resignation she asked me what I was planning to do. I excitedly told her that I wanted to pursue a career in technology, she laughed, looked me in the eye and said, “What makes you think you can do something like that?” In that moment a wave of realization hit me, she was reflecting back to me a negative internal belief I struggled with, this is what lit a flame inside my belly — I was determined to show her.

How accessible is a career in tech for underrepresented groups?

Social networks are an important factor in career success, the quality of these networks can influence access to information, support from others and career advocacy.

This type of “human capital investment” can adversely affect a person from an underrepresented community because of the limited resources their existing social network provides, which in turn can affect the accessibility a person has to a field. 

I understood at a very young age that there was a clear divide between my community and those that lived in the affluent areas of NYC. In school, we were taught that our socioeconomic position should not dictate our potential and this is something we all thought we understood until we entered the workforce. 

It wasn’t until I decided to change careers mid-life that I began to understand this concept of “social networks” and its effect on my career trajectory vs. those of other socioeconomic dispositions. I found myself needing to develop these networks later in life, having to compete against peers with built-in networks of people with access to opportunities. There has been great strides since then to strengthen these underrepresented “Social Networks” and this is why representation matters, it builds networks that those younger than us can access. 

How should we think about representation in our communities and families of immigrants?

My parents are immigrants. They arrived in this country eager for opportunity and hopeful to see their children have access to opportunities they could not obtain in their native land. Every moment spent outside of this perceived success cycle was observed as a wasted opportunity. The responsibility and expectation on the shoulders of first-generation Americans such as myself is one that we bear with pride but it has inevitably affected our career choices. 

Representation in fields like technology provides not only the person but the community an opportunity to see itself in sectors they could not imagine. It gives them a new mental model by which they can frame success, by which they can envision a future based off of interests and desires, success by means of thriving and not survival.

If we want to improve the diversity pipeline for sectors like tech, the key to its people is through the community, empowering the community fuels it to act in its own self-interest, seeking out programs and networks that could in turn help their people seek out opportunities outside of their typical experience. 

The first step in empowering the person and the community is representation.